Edmonton Eskimos wide receiver Derel Walker faces sky-high expectations in 2016, but fortunately he knows a little bit about pressure.
He was, after all, the guy who literally held Johnny Football's capstone college comeback in the palms of his hands – and then lost sight of the ball.
"The ball was right in the lights," Walker recalled in an interview after practice Thursday at Commonwealth Stadium.
"I was like, 'Oh, I know this thing is coming. I have to catch it. Just catch it.'"
It was the final toss in the college career of Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Heisman-winning, hard-partying, gunslinging, dual threat college legend who became an NFL cautionary tale of pressure, excess, and wasted potential.
On New Year's Eve 2013 Manziel, Walker, and the Aggies were getting it handed to them by Duke at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Aggies trailed 38-17 at the half before Manziel put the team on his shoulders. He dodged, spun, and threw darts on the dead run. But it looked like too little too late with under six minutes to go and the Aggies still down by 10.
It was second and seven near midfield. Manziel was in the shotgun, saw Walker split left facing man coverage and audibled out.
It was now Walker on a go route.
Walker jukes right and slips left past his man and the race is on.
Manziel backpedals as defenders rush in, throwing off his back foot. It's all arm, a 44-yard rainbow surgical strike set against the deafening roar of the fans. Walker's man is with him but the ball lofts over Walker's right shoulder and into his hands. Touchdown.
"The ball was right in the lights and he just dropped it in the bucket. It was a perfect throw," Walker recalled.
The Aggies then intercepted a Blue Devil pass for a touchdown to complete a 52-48 win, one of the greatest in team history.
Walker is a 24-year-old Texan from Hillsboro, south of Dallas.
He stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 185 pounds, with a vertical leap that starts at 37 inches. He grew up rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and emulating receivers like Randy Moss and Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco).
Walker wrote his own comeback story last year with the Eskimos, a year after being cut by the NFL's Tennessee Titans without even getting a ball thrown his way in training camp.
He was on the Esks' practice squad for the first six games, then lit up the CFL like a blowtorch under an oil drum, putting up mind-boggling pro-rated numbers.
In 12 games he racked up 89 receptions for 1,110 yards and six TDs.
He averaged 92.5 yards a game, leading all CFL receivers, and was chosen the league's most outstanding rookie.
Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly said Walker's strength is his versatility: he can run hitch and go's, outs, slants, deep fades, you name it.
"He knows where to position his body to give him an advantage to catch [the ball] over the defender," Reilly said.
"Either he's going to come down with it or nobody is going to come down with it."
Walker said getting cut by Tennessee felt like the end of the line but he didn't quit, went to an Eskimos tryout camp and resurrected his career.
"That's one of things [that help you] grow you as a man. If you want something you've got to go get it.
"I just needed an opportunity to showcase my talent and prove to everyone this guy can play a little ball."
The future, however, is clouded for Johnny Football. This past off season Manziel was cut by the Cleveland Browns, lost his agent and faces a domestic violence charge.
Walker says they stay in touch.
"He's going through some rough times right now," he said.
"I try to stay in his ear but he's a grown man. I can't make his decisions for him.
"But as far as that goes, Johnny's my boy. I'm going to ride with him to the end."